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      Social contagion theory: examining dynamic social networks and human behavior

      1 , 2 , 3 , 4
      Statistics in Medicine
      Wiley

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          Abstract

          Here, we review the research we have conducted on social contagion. We describe the methods we have employed (and the assumptions they have entailed) to examine several datasets with complementary strengths and weaknesses, including the Framingham Heart Study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and other observational and experimental datasets that we and others have collected. We describe the regularities that led us to propose that human social networks may exhibit a 'three degrees of influence' property, and we review statistical approaches we have used to characterize interpersonal influence with respect to phenomena as diverse as obesity, smoking, cooperation, and happiness. We do not claim that this work is the final word, but we do believe that it provides some novel, informative, and stimulating evidence regarding social contagion in longitudinally followed networks. Along with other scholars, we are working to develop new methods for identifying causal effects using social network data, and we believe that this area is ripe for statistical development as current methods have known and often unavoidable limitations. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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          Most cited references78

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          The spread of behavior in an online social network experiment.

          How do social networks affect the spread of behavior? A popular hypothesis states that networks with many clustered ties and a high degree of separation will be less effective for behavioral diffusion than networks in which locally redundant ties are rewired to provide shortcuts across the social space. A competing hypothesis argues that when behaviors require social reinforcement, a network with more clustering may be more advantageous, even if the network as a whole has a larger diameter. I investigated the effects of network structure on diffusion by studying the spread of health behavior through artificially structured online communities. Individual adoption was much more likely when participants received social reinforcement from multiple neighbors in the social network. The behavior spread farther and faster across clustered-lattice networks than across corresponding random networks.
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            A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization.

            Human behaviour is thought to spread through face-to-face social networks, but it is difficult to identify social influence effects in observational studies, and it is unknown whether online social networks operate in the same way. Here we report results from a randomized controlled trial of political mobilization messages delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US congressional elections. The results show that the messages directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people. Furthermore, the messages not only influenced the users who received them but also the users' friends, and friends of friends. The effect of social transmission on real-world voting was greater than the direct effect of the messages themselves, and nearly all the transmission occurred between 'close friends' who were more likely to have a face-to-face relationship. These results suggest that strong ties are instrumental for spreading both online and real-world behaviour in human social networks.
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              Core Discussion Networks of Americans

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Statistics in Medicine
                Statist. Med.
                Wiley
                02776715
                February 20 2013
                February 20 2013
                June 18 2012
                : 32
                : 4
                : 556-577
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Medicine and Department of Health Care Policy; Harvard Medical School; Boston MA 02115 U.S.A
                [2 ]Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Harvard University; Cambridge MA 02138 U.S.A
                [3 ]Division of Medical Genetics; University of California; San Diego, La Jolla CA 92093 U.S.A
                [4 ]Department of Political Science; University of California; San Diego, La Jolla CA 92093 U.S.A
                Article
                10.1002/sim.5408
                3830455
                22711416
                6805bcdb-d3d0-4491-8365-76342a4034ac
                © 2012

                http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/tdm_license_1.1

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